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Skin cancer incidence statistics

Incidence statistics for malignant melanoma of the skin (cutaneous) by country in the UK, age and trends over time are presented here. There are also data on lifetime risk, the distribution of cases, stage at diagnosis, geographic variation, socio-economic variation, ethnicity, and prevalence. 

Find out more about the coding and counting of this data


By country in the UK

Malignant melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK (2011), accounting for 4% of all new cases. In males and females separately, malignant melanoma is the 6th most common cancer (4% each of the male and female total).1-4

In 2011, there were 13,348 new cases of malignant melanoma in the UK (Table 1.1): 6,495 (49%) in men and 6,853 (51%) in women, giving a male: female ratio of around 10:11.1-4 The crude incidence rate shows that there are 21 new malignant melanoma cases for every 100,000 males in the UK and 21 for every 100,000 females.

The European age-standardised incidence rates (AS rates) are significantly lower in Northern Ireland compared with the other countries in the UK (males only) (Table 1.1).1-4 The rates do not differ significantly between the constituent countries of the UK for females.

Table 1.1: Malignant Melanoma (C43), Number of New Cases, Crude and European Age-Standardised (AS) Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, UK, 2011

England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland UK
Male Cases 5,440 356 573 126 6,495
Crude Rate 20.8 23.7 22.5 14.2 20.9
AS Rate 17.5 18.4 18.3 13.0 17.5
AS Rate - 95% LCL 17.1 16.5 16.8 10.8 17.1
AS Rate - 95% UCL 18.0 20.3 19.8 15.3 17.9
Female Cases 5,681 373 629 170 6,853
Crude Rate 21.1 23.9 23.2 18.4 21.3
AS Rate 17.5 18.8 18.4 16.2 17.6
AS Rate - 95% LCL 17.0 16.9 17.0 13.7 17.2
AS Rate - 95% UCL 17.9 20.8 19.9 18.6 18.0
Persons Cases 11,121 729 1,202 296 13,348
Crude Rate 20.9 23.8 22.9 16.3 21.1
AS Rate 17.3 18.5 18.1 14.5 17.4
AS Rate - 95% LCL 17.0 17.2 17.1 12.8 17.1
AS Rate - 95% UCL 17.7 19.8 19.1 16.1 17.7

Download this table XLS (33KB) PPT (168KB) PDF (26KB)

95% LCL and 95% UCL are the 95% lower and upper confidence limits around the AS Rate

The Cancer Atlas for the UK and Ireland 1991-2000, which analysed rates at local authority and health board level, showed that male and female malignant melanoma incidence rates have a very similar geographical distribution. The highest rates for both sexes occur in south west England and in the densely populated belt of Scotland, from Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh in the east (illustrated for men in Figure 1.1).5

Similarly the latest analysis of malignant melanoma incidence rates across the former cancer networks throughout the UK reports significantly higher rates in the south and south west regions of England, whilst the incidence rates for areas of London are significantly lower than all other cancer networks.6,7 The lower rates in London reflect the higher proportions of people from non-white ethnic groups, in whom melanoma risk is lower.39

section reviewed 21/04/14
section updated 21/04/14


By age

Malignant melanoma incidence is related to age, but it has an unusual pattern when compared with most other cancer types. In the UK between 2009 and 2011, an average of 27% of cases were diagnosed in those aged under 50 years, and an average of 24% of cases were diagnosed in the 75s and over (Figure 1.2).1-4 This is in contrast to all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), where 11% of cases were diagnosed in those aged under 50 during the same period, and 36% of cases were diagnosed in those aged 75 years and over.

Age-specific incidence rates increase steadily from around age 20-24 years, reaching a peak at age 85+ years for both sexes (with the increase being sharper for males from age 55-59 years onwards). Incidence rates are higher for females than for males in the younger age groups: the difference is largest at age 20-24, when the male:female incidence ratio of age-specific incidence rates (to account for the different proportions of males to females in each age group) is 4:10. However, males have higher incidence rates from age 60-64 onwards, and the male:female ratio of age-specific rates increases with age, from around 11:10 at age 60-64 years, to more than 17:10 at age 85+ years.

Figure 1.1: Malignant Melanoma (C43), Average Number of New Cases per Year and Age-Specific Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, UK, 2009-2011


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section reviewed 21/04/14
section updated 21/04/14


Trends over time

Malignant melanoma incidence rates have increased overall in Great Britain since the mid-1970s (Figure 1.3).1-3 For males, European AS incidence rates were almost seven times higher in 2009-2011 than in 1975-1977. For females, the increase is smaller but rates have still quadrupled between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. Since the mid-1970s in Great Britain, malignant melanoma incidence rates have increased more rapidly than any of the current ten most common cancers in males and females.

Some of the increase may be due to increased surveillance and early detection as well as changes in diagnostic criteria, but most is considered to be real and linked to changes in sun-related behaviour such as an increase in frequency of holidays abroad over time.8-11 A study published in December 2011 estimated that around 86% of malignant melanomas in the UK in 2010 were linked to exposure to UVR from the sun and sunbeds.12

Figure 1.2: Malignant Melanoma (C43), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, Great Britain, 1975-2011


Download this chart XLS (57KB) PPT (136KB) PDF (45KB)

Malignant melanoma incidence trends for the UK are shown in Figure 1.4.1-4 Over the last decade (between 2000-2002 and 2009-2011) the European AS incidence rates have increased by 57% and 39% in males and females, respectively.

Figure 1.3: Malignant Melanoma (C43), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, UK, 1993-2011 


Download this chart XLS (52KB) PPT (133KB) PDF (40KB)

Malignant melanoma incidence rates have increased overall for all of the broad age groups in Great Britain since the mid-1970s (Figure 1.7).1-3 The largest increases have been in people aged 65-74, with European AS incidence rates increasing more than seven-fold between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. Incidence rates for those aged 75+ have also increased more than six-fold over the same time period.

Figure 1.4: Malignant Melanoma (C43), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Age, Persons, Great Britain, 1975-2011


Download this chart XLS (62KB) PPT (138KB) PDF (52KB)

section reviewed 21/04/14
section updated 21/04/14


Lifetime risk

Lifetime risk is an estimation of the risk that a newborn child has of being diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life. It is a summary of risk in the population but genetic and lifestyle factors affect the risk of cancer and so the risk for every individual is different.

In 2010, in the UK, the lifetime risk of developing malignant melanoma is 1 in 55 for men and 1 in 56 for women.29

The lifetime risk for malignant melanoma cancer has been calculated by the Statistical Information Team using the ‘Adjusted for Multiple Primaries’ (AMP) method; this accounts for the possibility that someone can have more than one diagnosis of malignant melanoma cancer over the course of their lifetime.30

section reviewed 25/04/13
section updated 25/04/13


Distribution of cases

Figure 1.8 shows the percentage distribution of malignant melanoma on parts of the body. These vary by sex, with more than four in ten cases in males arising on the trunk of the body, particularly on the back, while the most common place for females is on the legs.14

Figure 1.5: Malignant Melanoma (C43), Percentage Distribution of Cases Diagnosed on Parts of the Body, by Sex, Great Britain, 2008-2010

Males - Head and neck: 22%, trunk: 41%, arm: 19%, leg: 13%, not specified/overlapping: 4%. Females - Head and neck - 14%, trunk: 20%, arm: 24%, leg: 39%, not specified/overlapping: 3%


In   in the UK,   cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed in the   each year.

This represents   of malignant melanoma cases in   between 2008 and 2010.

  males females
legs 770 2444
arms 1086 1505
trunk 2390 1258
head and neck 1300 846
not specified / overlapping 235 198
Total 5780 6250

Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding

Download this chart CR Xls Icon XLS (96KB)  CR PPT Icon PPT(204KB)  CR PDF Icon PDF (63KB)

section reviewed 24/07/12
section updated 24/07/12


By stage at diagnosis

Staging for malignant melanoma describes how deeply the tumour has grown into the skin, and whether it has spread. Data by stage are not yet routinely available for the UK due to inconsistencies in the collecting and recording of staging data in the past; this is improving, however, and plans for a nationally consistent dataset in England are underway.38 In the meantime, incidence by stage is available for the former Anglia Cancer Network in the east of England for the period 2006-2010.15 Anglia covers around 5% of the population of England and may not be representative of the country as a whole due to differences in underlying demographic factors (such as age, deprivation or ethnicity), as well as variation in local healthcare provision standards and policies.

The majority (66%) of men and women diagnosed with malignant melanoma present at stage I (Table 1.2),15 with the proportion being higher in women (71%) than in men (61%). Just 1% of men and women present with metastases (stage IV).

Table 1.2: Malignant Melanoma (C43), Proportion of Cases Diagnosed at Each Stage, Adults (Aged 15-99), Former Anglia Cancer Network, 2006-2010

Stage Men Women Adults
Stage I 61.4% 71.3% 66.4%
Stage II 21.0% 17.1% 19.1%
Stage III 13.7% 8.5% 11.1%
Stage IV 2.0% 0.7% 1.3%
Stage not known 1.9% 2.4% 2.1%
All stages 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Download this table XLS (30KB) PPT (126KB) PDF (20KB)

Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

A study using data from three English cancer registries for 2007-2009 showed that around half of malignant melanoma cases (45% in males and 53% in females) are diagnosed when the tumour is less than 1mm thick.31 Only 14% of males and 10% of females are diagnosed when their tumour is more than 4mm thick.31

section reviewed 22/07/13
section updated 22/07/13


In Europe and worldwide

Malignant melanoma is the ninth most common cancer in Europe, with more than 100,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012 (3% of the total). In Europe (2012), the highest World age-standardised incidence rates for malignant melanoma are in Switzerland for men and Denmark for women; the lowest rates are in Albania for both men and women. UK malignant melanoma incidence rates are estimated to be the ninth highest in males in Europe, and seventh highest in females.18 These data are broadly in line with Europe-specific data available elsewhere.19

Malignant melanoma is the 19th most common cancer worldwide, with around 232,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012 (2% of the total). Malignant melanoma incidence rates are highest in Australia/New Zealand and lowest in South Central Asia, but this partly reflects varying data quality worldwide.18

Use our interactive map to explore the data for malignant melanoma.

Variation between countries may reflect different prevalence of risk factors, use of screening, and diagnostic methods.

section reviewed 11/06/14
section updated 11/06/14


By socio-economic variation

Malignant melanoma incidence is strongly inversely related to deprivation in the UK; it is one of the few cancers where incidence rates are lower for more deprived men and women and there is a clear trend of decreasing rates from the least to the most deprived.21-24 The most recent England-wide data for 2000-2004 show European AS incidence rates are 122% higher for men living in the least deprived areas compared with the most deprived, and 116% higher for women.21 It has been estimated that there would have been an additional 2,000 new malignant melanoma cancer cases each year in England during 2000-2004 if all men and women had experienced the same incidence rates as the most affluent.21

A study in Scotland for 2006-2010 showed that the gap in malignant melanoma incidence by deprivation is slightly smaller, with the least deprived people having 81% higher rates, compared with the most deprived.22 Comparable associations with deprivation have also been reported in Wales and Northern Ireland.23,24

Risk factors associated with malignant melanoma such as sun exposure and sunbed use are discussed in detail on the skin cancer risk factors page.

section reviewed 22/07/13
section updated 22/07/13

By ethnicity

Age-standardised rates for White males with malignant melanoma range from 13.1 to 13.6 per 100,000. Rates for Asian males are significantly lower, ranging from 0.2 to 0.8 per 100,000 and the rates for Black males are also significantly lower, ranging from 0.6 to 2.6 per 100,000. For females there is a similar pattern - the age-standardised rates for White females range from 14.7 to 15.2 per 100,000, and rates for Asian and Black females are also significantly lower ranging from 0.2 to 1.1 per 100,000 and 1.0 to 3.6 per 100,000 respectively.40

Ranges are given because of the analysis methodology used to account for missing and unknown data. For malignant melanoma, 38,097 cases were identified; 36% had no known ethnicity.

section reviewed 21/04/14
section updated 21/04/14



Prevalence refers to the number of people who have previously received a diagnosis of cancer and who are still alive at a given time point. Some patients will have been cured of their disease and others will not.

In the UK around 59,000 people were still alive at the end of 2006, up to ten years after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma (Table 1.3).25

Table 1.3: Malignant Melanoma (C43), One, Five and Ten Year Cancer Prevalence, UK, 31st December 2006

1 Year Prevalence 5 Year Prevalence 10 Year Prevalence
Male 4,278 16,118 24,617
Female 5,132 21,203 34,530
Persons 9,410 37,321 59,147

Download this table XLS (30KB) PPT (120KB) PDF (17KB)

Worldwide, it is estimated that there were nearly 756,000 men and women still alive in 2008, up to five years after their diagnosis.17

section reviewed 17/05/13
section updated 17/05/13


Non-melanoma skin cancer 

Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) are extremely common, but relatively few deaths are caused by them. In 2011, there were 102,628 cases of NMSC registered in the UK:1-4 57,800 (56%) in men and 44,828 (44%) in women, giving a male:female ratio of around 13:10.1-4

The majority of NMSCs are basal cell carcinomas (BCCs, 74%) or squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs, 23%).32 The remainder comprises a mixed group of rare skin cancers; almost three in ten of these are Merkel cell carcinoma, which has a very poor prognosis.33

Both BCC and SCC are more common in males than females, though the sex difference is wider for SCC than BCC.32 The recorded incidence of BCC increased by around a third (36% in males and 32% in females) between 2000-2002 and 2008-2010 in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland combined.32 SCC incidence increased by a similar amount (34% in males and 39% in females) over the same time period.32 Whilst improved registration may partly explain these increases, some of the increase is probably genuine, reflecting increased UV exposure from the sun or sunbeds.32

NMSCs constitute a substantial burden to the national health services across the UK because of the large number of cases diagnosed each year, however NMSC incidence figures are under-estimates because the recording of NMSC is known to be incomplete.26 Many cancer registries record only the first NMSC of each histological type (e.g. BCC or SCC) per person, and information on small NMSCs treated in primary care or the private sector may never reach the registries.33 An estimated 30-50% of BCC and around 30% of SCC goes unrecorded, though this may vary by registry.34-37

Both BCC and SCC are highly treatable and survival rates for NMSCs are very high.27 However, if left untreated, these tumours can become destructive, invading local tissues and causing disfigurement.28

section reviewed 21/04/14
section updated 21/04/14

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References for skin cancer incidence

  1. Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, July 2013. Similar data can be found here:
  2. Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, May 2013. Similar data can be found here:
  3. Data were provided by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here:
  4. Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here:
  5. Quinn M, Wood H, Cooper N, et al, eds. Cancer Atlas of the United Kingdom and Ireland 1991–2000 Studies on Medical and Population Subjects No. 68. London: ONS; 2005.
  6. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Cancer Incidence and Mortality by Cancer Network, UK, 2005. London: NCIN; 2008.
  7. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Cancer e-Atlas
  8. Dennis LK. Analysis of the melanoma epidemic, both apparent and real: data from the 1973 through 1994 surveillance, epidemiology, and end results program registry. Arch Dermatol 1999;135(3):275-80.
  9. de Vries E, Coebergh JW. Cutaneous malignant melanoma in Europe. Eur J Cancer 2004;40(16):2355-66.
  10. de Vries E, Coebergh JW. Melanoma incidence has risen in Europe. BMJ 2005; 331(7518):698.
  11. Office for National Statistics. Travel Trends 2005. A report on the International Passenger Survey. London: ONS; 2006.
  12. Parkin DM, Mesher D, Sasieni P. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Brit J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S66-S69.
  13. Cancer Research UK Statistical Information Team. Statistics on the risk of developing cancer, by cancer type and age. Calculated using 2008 data for the UK using the ‘Adjusted for Multiple Primaries (AMP)’ method (Sasieni PD, Shelton J, Ormiston-Smith N, et al. What is the lifetime risk of developing cancer?: The effect of adjusting for multiple primaries. Brit J Cancer, 2011;105(3):460-5).
  14. Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, 2011.
  15. The National Cancer Registration Service, Eastern Office. Personal communication.
  16. Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, et al. Estimates of worldwide burden of cancer in 2008: GLOBOCAN 2008. Int J Cancer 2010;127:2893-917.
  17. Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, et al. GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2. Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC Cancerbase No.10 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010. Available from: Accessed May 2011.
  18. Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Ervik M, et al. GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2013. Available from:, accessed December 2013.
  19. Ferlay J, Steliarova-Foucher E, Lortet-Tieulent J, et al.Cancer incidence and mortality patterns in Europe: Estimates for 40 countries in 2012. European Journal of Cancer (2013) 49, 1374-1403.
  20. European Age-Standardised rates calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, 2011 using data from GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2, IARC, version 1.2.
  21. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Cancer incidence by deprivation England, 1995-2004 (PDF 1.04MB). London: NCIN; 2008.
  22. ISD Scotland. Cancer Statistics. Cancer of the Skin. Accessed July 2013.
  23. Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit. Cancer in Wales, 1995-2009: A Comprehensive Report. Cardiff: WCISU; 2011.
  24. Donnelly DW, Gavin AT, Comber H. Cancer in Ireland 1994-2004: A comprehensive report (PDF 7.77MB). Ireland: Northern Ireland Cancer Registry/National Cancer Registry, Ireland; 2009.
  25. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). One, Five and Ten Year Cancer Prevalence by Cancer Network UK, 2006. London: NCIN; 2010.
  26. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) Data Briefing. The Importance of Skin Cancer Registration. London: NCIN; 2010.
  27. Madan V, Lear JT, Szeimies RM. Non-melanoma skin cancer Lancet 2010;375(9715):673-85.
  28. Miller SJ, Alam M, Andersen J, et al. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 2010;8(8):836-64.
  29. Lifetime risk was calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, 2012.
  30. Sasieni PD, Shelton J, Ormiston-Smith N, et al. What is the lifetime risk of developing cancer?: The effect of adjusting for multiple primaries. Brit J Cancer 2011;105(3):460-5.
  31. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Mortality, Incidence and gender - Malignant Melanoma. London: NCIN; 2012.
  32. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Non-melanoma skin cancer in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. London: NCIN; 2013.
  33. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). Rare Skin Cancer in England. London: NCIN; 2011.
  34. Brewster DH, Bhatti LA, Inglis JH, et al. Recent trends in incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer in the East of Scotland, 1992-2003. Brit J Dermatol 2007;156:1295-1300.
  35. de Vries E, Micallef R, Brewster DH, et al. Population-based estimates of the occurrence of multiple vs. first primary basal cell carcinomas in 4 European regions. Arch Dermatol 2012;148(3):347-354.
  36. Poirier V, Ives A, Hounsome L, et al. The Role of the South West Public Health Observatory as the Lead Cancer Registry for Skin Cancer. Poster presented at The British Association of Dermatologists Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Update Meeting, London, February 2013.
  37. South West Public Health Observatory. Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: Estimates of cases. Bristol: South West Public Health Observatory; 2010.
  38. Department of Health. Improving outcomes: a strategy for cancer. London: DoH; 2011.
  39. Office for National Statistics. 2011 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales.
  40. National Cancer Intelligence Network and Cancer Research UK. Cancer Incidence and Survival by Major Ethnic Group, England, 2002-2006. 2009.
Updated: 22 April 2014